Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to also have this opportunity to take part in such an important debate, one I would also qualify as surprising. No one would have believed that a government would dare for the first time to go against the traditions, habits and principles that have always been part of the House of Commons and the parties that have been in power here, that is respect for commitments to the provinces on the renewal, every five years, of the equalization contracts.
Today, they have told us they are going to tack on a year, that it can be discussed later. But they are thereby blatantly neglecting the needs of the provinces, particularly in the areas of health, social services and education.
With this new invisible leader, as my colleague for Champlain has just described him, behind the curtain pulling the strings, we find ourselves with a two-headed government.
First, he comes here and proposes things, then the next day, someone else says, no we will not do that. This will drag on until February. We have an irresponsible government, one that does not take its responsibilities, puts off its problems, does not listen to the provinces, the opposition, or various stakeholders in Quebec or in Canada, and does what it wants for one reason: to advance the personal agenda of the new leader, who will see to helping out his friends who contributed $11 million to his leadership campaign and to returning the favour to friends of the party. The good old Liberal tradition will be reincarnated in a new leader. Leaders will come and go, but the party will always be corrupt.
The equalization that we are talking about is so complex. As my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot said, it could disappear one day if we took the time to sit down and properly discuss the provinces' needs and the distribution of wealth in Canada. It would be very easy.
Currently, the average fiscal capacity is based on five provinces: Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Provinces with a fiscal capacity below the average receive the difference from Ottawa, not the rich provinces, but Ottawa itself. What is more, equalization legislation is reviewed every five years.
Look at what the Séguin commission report said, for instance. This commission was formed by the Parti Quebecois government and was chaired by Mr. Séguin, who is currently the minister of finance in the new Liberal government in Quebec. He has not changed his mind in the meantime.
He talked about restoring fiscal balance. Look at what Mr. Séguin said and then look at what the provinces said during the finance ministers meeting. They said that the financial means of the provinces had to be increased by at least $8 billion annually. That is what the Séguin report said.
In Quebec, he said that $2 billion in the medium term, and $3 billion in the long term, was needed to restore fiscal balance. The CHST needed to be abolished and the GST or personal income tax transferred.
This new sharing of the tax base must be gradual. What the Séguin report suggested was quite orderly. Also, it wanted to improve the equalization system by taking into account the fiscal capacity of all ten provinces instead of only five; this would, among other things, require elimination of the existing ceiling and threshold provisions. Why should there be a limit? “You can be poor up to a point; you can be rich up to a point”, that is what the formula is saying at the present time. The report said that Ottawa should not unilaterally change the equalization formula.
However, this bill is just that: a first unilateral step. It says, “We are setting the date at which we will negotiate and, for the time being, it will be delayed by at least one year”. That is quite unilateral. How will the federal government behave when it sits down at the table? The same way, as the Séguin report feared.
The Séguin report also said that there should be checks and balances on the federal spending power. Fiscal rebalancing would limit the spending power of the federal government.
This government's capacity to spend is limitless. While retaining the same tax rates, it has cut transfer payments.
If it had been honest, it would have said, “I do not want to be involved in health and education any more. As a result, I will not keep the tax points I was using. The provinces can have them to offer those services”. Instead, the government kept the money and left it to the provinces to provide those services. It is now bragging about its balanced budget while continuing to interfere in areas under provincial jurisdiction by spending wildly.
The spending power of the federal government must be rebalanced and limited. Quebec must reaffirm vigorously, as it has done traditionally, that there is no constitutional basis for the federal spending power. This is no small matter. That behaviour by the government, especially the current government, which will not change even if its leader changes, flies in the face of the Canadian Constitution. As a matter of fact, the federal government unduly interferes in areas of provincial jurisdiction and spends recklessly even though the Constitution puts limits on how it can spend.
Quebec must maintain its demand for the unconditional right to opt out with full financial compensation. It is funny because, yesterday, my colleague, the member for Trois-Rivières, moved a motion asking that the House acknowledge that Quebec constitutes a nation and has the right to opt out of any federal initiative it considers unsuitable. The same principle would apply to any other province requesting the right to opt out. That is part of the very principle of federation.
In his report, the present Quebec Liberal minister of finance, Mr. Séguin, said that the right to opt out was necessary. Yesterday, the federal Liberal members from Quebec refused to vote in favour of that principle. They refused to vote in favour of the motion by the member for Trois-Rivières, which asked that Quebec be recognized as a nation and be given the right to opt out of any federal program not in line with its own interests.
That was mentioned in the Séguin report. I repeat that Mr. Séguin is now a Quebec Liberal minister. In Quebec, there is unanimity; all three parties agree with that motion. The federal Liberal members from Quebec remained silent. They still claim that they serve the interests of Quebec. However, there is only one party here defending Quebec's interests, and that is the courageous Bloc Quebecois. The others just knuckle under. Each time they have the opportunity to rise or speak for Quebec, they stay put. They belong to the party of the silent. That is what we call them in Quebec.
That is why, come the next election, Quebeckers will not trust again.